Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Come on in, the water’s...fine?

The water in the YMCA pool in Green Bay, WI is always just right. I should know. As a water aerobics instructor, I spend up to 10 hours a week in the water. Multiply that by the 5 years I’ve taught, and that’s a lot of time spent being pruned, chlorinated, waterlogged and educated on pool testing, deck slipperiness and proper temperature level--86 degrees being ideal (and I can tell if it’s a degree off with my pinkie toe).

As often as I can, I share my beloved YMCA pool with family and friends. Today, when I took my daughter, Krista, and her friend to ‘free’ swim, the pool was filled with hundreds of day-camp kids. There were half a dozen camp leaders walking the perimeter and 3 lifeguards on tall chairs too. By the looks of it, the pool was pretty well policed.

Not to “rat-out” any teenage lifeguards, but the “Y” employs, primarily, “The Lethargic” and “The Dopey” to guard the pool area. I actually saw one sleeping during an adult class. Some look more lobotomized than potentially heroic.

This afternoon, however, the lifeguards were all alert, vigilant, sitting up straight, and focusing in the direction a certain corner of the pool. I watched the other adults migrate to that same corner; their body language suggesting, “Something’s strange over here.” So I swam closer. One lifeguard was pointing, mouthing the words, “What is it?” while another shrugged her shoulders. Still another nodded knowingly, and motioned at the first guy, saying, “Get the net.” I swam a little farther away and called Krista and her friend to me. We all stood watching; the girls from beneath the water with their swim masks on.

The next series of events happened in slow motion:

A muscled, tall, sturdy male lifeguard handed “The Net” to a small, unprepared female lifeguard, shaking his head saying, “No way in h-e-l-l I’m doing that.”

The girl made a face, but reached for the long handled net and dipped it in the water, made another face, screeching, “Oh, my God!” and cringing.

Krista and her friend see the now full net underwater, through their masks. They surface, and looked at me, wildly, for answers.

The third, another female lifeguard, became more involved and pointed to 3 or 4 other places in the pool, right next to where we were standing.

Somewhere, there is an unidentified, previously-constipated child—probably now in a much better mood.

A LONG, urgent whistle was blown by “Freaked-out Muscley Guy.” It was the shrill of warning. Everyone did get out the pool--just like the swimmers did in Jaws when someone yelled, “SHARK!” People ran like the water was boiling, heated by a fire-breathing, ink-shooting, giant, “20,000 Leagues under the Sea” squid. It was the exact scene from “Caddyshack” when someone cried “Doodie!” Only this WAS a “Doodie” (several, actually), and not a Baby Ruth.

I rushed Krista and her friend out, repeating out loud, “There’s no way you could have gotten any on you,”---but thinking, “I HOPE you didn’t get any on you.”

Friday, July 24, 2009

Teach your Children Well - By: A. Bear

If my mothering were to be symbolized by an animal, I’d definitely be a bear. The protective nature of the bear, anyway, not the bit about sleeping all winter or “you knowing” in the woods. I always thought to be over-protective was to be a good Mom. After all, my neuroses have served me well. Boy, would I have made a lousy bird. Pushing them out of a tree-top nest? Are you kidding me?

It took me a long time to understand that parenting isn’t just about protecting them from harm and pain—it’s about loving fiercely and teaching.

One of the many rewards of parenting is enjoying their babyhood. My first born, David, got picked up, still sleeping, and rested on my shoulder on my whim, whenever I wanted to feel his warm, sweet breath on my cheek, or mouth his doughy, dimpled hand; reveling in pure joy. Jonathan was 9 months old when I was going through my divorce. I kissed him so often his cheeks got chapped. He was my teddy bear, who comforted me through the angst and emotional turmoil of a dissolving marriage. He was slung on my hip so long, in fact, my friends joked that he and I were conjoined. Krista was just an infant when my Dad became terminal. For the first 5 months of her life, I rarely let her out of my arms. Those cuddles were Lesson 1: Love and to be Needed. And I did eventually put them down.

Discipline was always a desperate struggle for me. I never wanted to hurt their feelings or break their spirits. I always thought growling or giving them a dirty look would be deterrent enough for them not to repeat an offense. At some point though, I couldn’t make myself scary enough to intimidate them. When that happened, finding natural consequences for disobedience took some ingenuity. Future blog titles by my boys:

“She Took Us Women’s Clothes Shopping with a Punishment” or

“What Does Scrubbing the Laundry Room Floor with a Toothbrush have to do with Backtalk?”

I also had “Discipliner’s Remorse.” I hope, by admitting that I might have overreacted...a tiny bit...when I made Jonathan eat mustard sardines when he told a big-fat-lie, that he came to learn Lesson 2: Forgiveness...and a taste for canned fish.

Co-parenting is crazy hard, even when you’re married. When our kids became adolescents, we fell back on our own upbringings to guide us. My husband, Fred, and I have clashed on this front like competing moose. We wanted the same thing from our teenagers, but he delivered the message through a tuba in the key of C, while mine was played by a piccolo in the key of B flat. Lesson 3: Harmony and cooperation isn’t easy--but it’s so worth the effort.

Although I’ve been known to question my religion, I cannot deny I love the concept. For me, although we may have biological bodies, inside each of us is a soul. For me, how that soul got there is divine and inexplicable. I want my kids to know being ‘alive’ means something more than just bio-chemistry and evolution. Even though we may not understand the reason we’re here, or our origin, I want to embrace the possibility—the wonder...of more. And to be thankful. I hope I was able to communicate Lesson 4: Reverence.

Witnessing you child fail is a tempting arena in which to protect. Unfortunately, for a soft, mother bear, it’s one of the best opportunities for them to learn. I’ve fought impossibly hard tugs to “make it all better” or give them something to take their mind off their disappointment, admittedly not always succeeding. My sons have had their hearts broken by girlfriends, some dreams fade and goals go unmet. My daughter worked for hours on a project today and it went miserably wrong. As much as I wanted to fix it, I let her cry, just cry, on my shoulder for a half an hour...and then... she figured out her own solution—which made her feel much better than if I’d waved a magic wand or taken her out for ice cream. Lesson 5: Heal thyself. But ice cream does solve many world problems.

Despite my best efforts to do everything for my children, they still became strong, insightful and clever anyway. Despite my “overbearance” (to further the bear metaphor), they still did things I told them not to...and learned. Thank goodness for their free-will and adventuresome spirits. I am renewing my vow as a parent, and shrugging off my overprotective lineage, by saying, “NO” to sharing unsolicited “If I were yous” with my now adult sons, and “NO” to discouraging my daughter from getting back on her death-ride scooter. Note to self: Didn’t need to add “death-ride” to previous vow.

But I can’t promise that I won’t be watching, from behind some tree, stifling the urge to charge at adversity for my kids, to fend off unhappiness or to take a bullet for them. Bears are loyal animals, you know.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Restrictive Packaging = Delayed Gratification

My daughter, Krista, loves those snotty, trampy Bratz dolls. Something about the heavy make-up, sneaky expression and removable feet has trumped poor, wholesome Barbie for years. A gift of a Bratz doll is met with giant smiles, sincere, “kissey” thank yous and anticipation. She has gotten used to the anticipation part... because it takes no less than 20 minutes to open the box and get the doll out.

Whoever decided that a Bratz doll needs to remain absolutely still throughout any mode of transportation? Someone engineered the restrictive packaging for Ms. “Stick-Thin, Mini-skirt” doll, so that she could be tossed off a ship from China into a rolling ocean without shifting a millimeter. This doll wouldn’t move if a vulture, thinking she was the “nearly-dead,” began clawing and “beaking” at her. She wouldn’t be flattened if an African Elephant were jumping on her either. You could even take a flamethrower to the package, but I have a feeling she wouldn't burn.

Like some sadomasochistic horror flick, the doll is SEWN to the her hair! Her wrists are bound with triple twisted clear elastic bands; her legs and waist are clamped with hard plastic tye-locks you have to clip with a sharp scissors. Even her high fashion clothes and removable feet/shoes are tied and sewn individually as well. Maybe that’s why it always has a pouting face.

No child could ever open the packaging. Few adults can make it through the process without a nasty cut. Even fewer could manage freeing the doll with an impairment, be it mental or physical, and be triumphant.

Idea: If only they put impulse items like Snickers, M&Ms and Cheetos in restrictive, frustrating packaging, they would be easier to resist at check-out time...and maybe then my navel would stop looking like the letter “T.”

Earlier this evening, I was helping Krista with a new bead kit. What looked to be a thin, clear plastic suitcase filled with little triangular containers of different shaped and colored beads, was IN FACT... 150 little triangular SEALED containers of beads, each one secured, on three sides, with really, really, really STICKY, transparent tape. Go rapidly (like any excited birthday girl would, at finding such a grand gift), and the beads will fly like a swarm of gnats. Open them carefully and you’re in for a 2 hour exercise in “How Not to Swear Repeatedly Before your Huffing, Growing Impatient, Quickly Losing Interest, Child.”

It’s not just toys. Even gum is hard to get into these days. I bought a 6-pack of Extra, which is now in little sturdy rectangles instead of the traditional gum stick. Once you get the 6-pack open, there’s cellophane around each individual pack that opens something like cigarettes. Once you get into that, there’s sticky flap and all the gum rectangles are also individually wrapped. I just want to chew my gum.

I also want to listen to my new CD in the car on the way home from the store. But without a special tool (which I can never find), I have to wait. The "Sticky Tape" people must be irritated about this too--always having their already "sealed and delivered" products OVER-sealed with clear cellophane from the "Cellophane" people. Sticky tape is never good enough....never.

About the only thing that’s now easier to get into is a can of soup, thanks to Campbell’s new pull-tap top for quicker entry. No more can openers required. Mmm, mmm, good.

Idea: Why not put the Bratz doll in a long, skinny soup can?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

“Wotton Wabbit”

Summary of Heidi’s Garden Experience in 7 Chapters

Chapter 1: Fred builds Heidi raised garden and fills it with road-quality dirt.

Chapter 2: Heidi plants vegetable/fruit garden.

Chapter 3: Heidi fusses over garden.

Chapter 4: Garden gets frost and dies

Chapter 5: Heidi plants new vegetable/fruit garden.

Chapter 6: Heidi obsesses over negligible growth.

Chapter 7: Heidi fertilizes and appeals to “Guardian Garden Spirits” using a “Garden Grow” tribal dance.

Now that I have a wonderful, lush, healthy garden, stocked with ten tomato plants, gigantic squash, 50 white onions, cucumbers, green beans, peppers and strawberries, I find the project relaxing and satisfying. I take a few moments each morning to just gaze at it proudly out my deck door. Sometimes I walk around it, inspecting each plant and caressing its leaves.

Then I saw him.

Him, being a fat grey rabbit sitting in the middle of my onion patch. In the instant I realized an animal had invaded that which I’d slaved over, worried about and tenderly watered, I understood every “Elmer Fudd-itude” ever spoken. I previously knew Mr. McGregor of the “Peter Rabbit” book to be a villain. Suddenly, Mr. McGregor and I were kindred. That rabbit must be punished.

Filled with hatred, eyes narrowed, murderous heart beating, I ran at it, hoping to inflict such a fright that he would never dare step foot on my land again. What’s more, I intended to make SUCH an impression that he would thump out a message to his 10,000 offspring that the “Heidi Smorgasbord” was off limits.

Apparently, I’m not as imposing as I thought I was, for he sat there, staring in each direction like Marty Feldman, chewing. He must have surmised from the tacked, webbed-deer fence how hard it would be for me to actually lay my hands on him. And he was enjoying his protection immensely. The closer I got to the varmint, however, the wider his eyes opened. Suddenly he jumped up and ran at the webbing, slipped down and hid under a nearby evergreen.

Investigating the damage, I saw on the garden floor, multiple bunny “butt prints,” the nibbled ends of onion and dozens of strawberry stems with no more strawberries on them.

How to protect against another probable visit would take some thought. The first thing I did was station my reluctant dog as a guard. Jasmine, sensing her function, pulled her tail so tightly underneath her that it disappeared altogether. A bunny would only need blow at her to send her into orbit. The second thing I did was reinforce the perimeter. But, the harder I made it for a rabbit to get in, the harder I made it for me to get in. Soon...I’d have to burrow under it myself, just to harvest my crops.

Walking around swinging a rabbit’s foot on a chain several times a day, or placing a few rabbit’s feet periodically along the garden wall as a warning were a few rejected ideas. Posting a picture of a rabbit with a red circle and a line through it made some sense. So did putting a mirror around the bottom, to frighten him with his own reflection (assuming, of course, that he didn’t already know what he looked like).

Somewhere, that long-eared “Vegetable Thief” is enjoying my stress...and plotting his return.